David Cloninger

Freshman Felder stands tall as homecoming hits

He didn’t have time to be nervous.

Rakym Felder is a freshman and that won’t change until this year is over. He’s the backup point guard, though, and he knew all year that could change at any moment.

Any moment came with 3:25 to go Sunday, South Carolina trying to hang on. The Gamecocks led 70-61 over Duke but P.J. Dozier had just fouled out.

Felder had played well, Sunday and throughout the season, but these were going to be the biggest 205 seconds of his life. The Blue Devils were starting to press, to create those turnovers they had been giving USC all day, and now a freshman point guard was going to have to bring the Gamecocks home.

Frank Martin wasn’t worried. He recruited Felder for a reason. “I needed a New York City point guard,” Martin said, channeling Frank McGuire when he first constructed the Gamecocks into a powerhouse. “I like New York City guards.”

The criteria of them – toughness, fearlessness, able to score and distribute equally well – was all wrapped in one 5-foot-10 package, from Brooklyn by way of Indian Land. Felder straightened his headband, tightened his shoelaces and went to work.

“I wasn’t nervous, because I dream for moments like this,” said the kid whose recruitment was one phone call. That’s how powerful the pull of playing for USC was to him.

In the final 205 seconds, Felder scored seven points with two rebounds and an assist. He finished with 15, four and three with one steal.

And he’s headed back home, to play in one of the most storied arenas in the world, in another high-stakes matchup. The Gamecocks’ third trip to New York this season will be to play Baylor for a spot in the Elite Eight.

“It just feels amazing, but honestly I just want to get the win and keep the ride going and create more history at this university,” Felder said.

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